Equalize Privilege and All Will Rise
What Noah Learned at UU Mid-West Leadership School
by Noah Rowan
I have privilege.
Until recently, I felt guilty about my privilege. I shoved it down and denied its existence. I waited for someone to reassure me that privilege was a made up phenomenon. I watched others do the work but called myself an ally. I never spoke up about the numerous opportunities I received. I couldn’t explain or fix it, so why acknowledge that privilege was existent in my life?
Recently, I attended UU Youth Midwest Leadership School in Beloit, WI. This intensive experience, which explored leadership development, social justice, our Unitarian Universalist (UU) faith, and team-building skills, was set to be another ordinary week in my life. I expected to show up and talk once or twice about justice. I would feel safe, comfortable and inside my comfort zone. I was wrong. Instead, we confronted tough topics. We were forced to gain new perspectives and tint the lenses in our glasses through which we see life in order to view these issues in new ways. We engaged in conversation, shared simple team-building games, and explored activities which built leadership skills. Most activities were informative, motivational, and inspiring, and placed me outside of my comfort zone to ensure attentive participation.
The “Privilege Walk” was an activity I found especially insightful. During a Privilege Walk, statements are read to a group that stands shoulder to shoulder in a straight line. Participants step forward or backward as statements are read, based on whether the statement applies to them. Examples of these questions include:
- Do both of your parents have college degrees? (If so, take one step forward.)
- Have you ever been asked to represent your whole race to give an opinion? (If so, take one step back.)
- Have you ever had to use a restroom that is not of the gender you identify as? (If so, take one step back.)
As a middle class, straight, white male living in a safe neighborhood, I expected to be toward the front. But I opened my eyes to something I never expected. I had taken the most steps forward. Looking back at the other participants was a moment unlike any other. It was hard not to feel guilty, but I knew feeling sorry for myself wouldn’t help. Thoughts darted through my mind, while my feet were planted strong on the ground, keeping me centered. My life had begun several steps ahead of my peers, and it was all showing. All over, emotions were present no matter where you had landed. Reality slowly set in as I reached a sense of slight acceptance, and a realization of my privilege.
I realized I couldn’t pretend my privilege didn’t exist when it is such a big part of my success. I realized that privilege shouldn’t drag me down or lead me to feel ashamed. Instead I have to fight, be an ally, and stand up against a society that started me ahead of so many others.
So now I ask this of you: Do you know the extent of your privilege? Because privilege definitely exists, and its presence, or absence, is significant.
We need to fight for an unbiased system so that one day I am not one step ahead. We can’t drag those with privilege down. Instead, we must lift up those less privileged and realize that changes must be made to create a more unified, equal, and loving world for everyone.
Thank you Youth Midwest Leadership School. The lessons I learned will live on forever in the change I make upon the world.
Noah Rowan is a member and leader of the Eliot Unitarian Chapel Senior High Youth Group and is actively involved in the larger Unitarian Universalist (UU) community. He recently attended the UU Youth Midwest Leadership School in Beloit, WI. In addition to his UU activities, Noah can be found playing lacrosse, bicycling, and performing in high school theatrical productions.